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Mutton Dressed as Lamb

Posted by Masakim on November 20, 2001

In Reply to: Mutton Dressed as Lamb posted by R. Berg on November 20, 2001

: : There is a long running debate at my workplace as to the exact reference of the above phrase. Effectively, there are two camps. The first believes that it is a reference to age - i.e. that it is something much older dressed up as something much younger. The second believes that it relates to quality - i.e. that it is something much poorer dressed up as something much better.

: : I imagine that whichever of these is correct must hark back to the origin of the phrase. Mutton is taken from an older sheep than a lamb. However, it is also a poorer quality of meat than lamb.

: : Which was meant originally?

: : Thanks

: : Tim

: You can all get back to work now. It's age, not quality.

: "'mutton dressed (or dressed up) as lamb' has, since latish C19, been directed at middle-aged and elderly women dressing in an unbecomingly youthful fashion. Drawn from the terminology of the butcher's shop" [Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British"].

: When words that express the other meaning are needed, these might do:
: "Things are seldom what they seem,
: Skim milk masquerades as cream" [W. S. Gilbert, "H.M.S. Pinafore," Act II].

mutton dressed as lamb or (ob[solescent]) lamb-fashion. An old woman dressed like a young one: low [slang]: mostly Cockney : from ca. 1860. Cf. the older form _an old ewe dressed lamb-fashion_, q.v. at _old ewe_.
old ewe dressed lamb-fashion, an. An old woman dressing like a young one: coll[oquial]: 1777, _The Gentleman's Magazine_, 'Here antique maids of sixty three | Drest out lamb-fashion you might see'; Grose, 1785, as above. [obsolete] by 1900.
From _A Dictionary of Slang ..., Fifth Edition_ by Eric Partridge.

Mutton dressed as lamb. A middle-aged or elderly woman dressed up to look younger. The allusion may not simply be to a butcher's tempting display of meat, but to 'mutton' in its slang sense of 'prostitute' and to 'lamb' in its colloquial sense of 'young innnocent', 'virgin'.
From _Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable_ revised by Adrian Room